Anna targets electoral reforms next
Having secured a promise from the political class on setting up a strong Lokpal, Anna Hazare has moved on to his next obsession, electoral reforms. In specific terms, he wants voters to have the right to recall and reject their representatives. Hazare group members said it needed more time to formulate a comprehensive view on electoral reforms. Of course, the right to recall and reject would be an important part of their demand but it would also deal with other issues related to the Indian election system. The Government’s track record in carrying out electoral reforms is as poor as its action on corruption. Since 2001, Election Commission has been pushing for empowering voters with negative/neutral voting. It is different from Hazare’s idea of recall/reject but could still work. In fact, in 2004, the then chief election commissioner T S Krishnamurthy had proposed this to the government. But it has not been acted upon. Apart from negative/ neutral voting, EC had proposed a ban on surrogate advertisements and ban on advertisements by state/central government six months before election, action against candidates for making false declaration in affidavits and restriction on the number of seats from which one may contest. EC has also been working to curb the menace of paid news and political parties using their news channels to advertise. EC had proposed that in the ballot paper or on the ballot unit of the Electronic Voting Machine, there should be a column “none of the above” after the name of the last candidate. EC had said it would enable a voter to reject all candidates, if he chooses so. The proposal does not even require a big legislative intervention. All that is needed is an amendment to rules 22 and 49B of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. At present, rule 49 O of the Conduct of Election Rules provides that an elector may refuse to vote after he has been identified and necessary entries in the register of elections are made. But EC had argued that this process did not protect the secrecy of voting as polling officials and polling agents get to know the voter’s decision. Advocate Prashant Bhushan said personally he thought the right to recall/reject was a great idea. “It’s in practice in many countries. Five to 10% of electorate can sign up and demand that their representative be recalled as he has to failed to deliver.” Bhushan was equally excited about building a system of referendum for important policy issues and legislations. “It is wrong to say people do not understand these issues. An elected representative is not representative for everything and does not understand all issues,” Bhushan said.